A Foothill Farms man died nearly two weeks ago after crashing his wrong-way vehicle on Interstate 5, staggering through traffic and getting hit by a Taser in a scuffle with California Highway Patrol officers, CHP officials said this week.
The Dec. 8 death of Christopher Victor Murphy prompted an investigation and left his family seeking more information. The CHP disclosed details of Murphy’s death this week in response to a Sacramento Bee inquiry.
Murphy, 41, was driving north in the southbound lanes near Airport Boulevard at 11:26 p.m. Dec. 7 and crashed into another vehicle before law enforcement arrived, according to the CHP.
Murphy’s car, a 2001 Toyota Highlander, rolled and caught on fire, shutting down both lanes of southbound traffic, based on a Twitter post from the Sacramento Fire Department that has since been removed. The occupants of the other vehicle suffered minor injuries, CHP spokesman Rodney Fitzhugh said.
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CHP officers from Woodland found Murphy “walking in and out of the lanes of traffic,” according to the CHP release. They said Murphy began struggling with an officer when they attempted to move him to the shoulder of the road.
Two officers used their Tasers in “drive stun mode to gain control” of Murphy, according to the release. Drive stun mode involves placing a Taser against the suspect to deliver a painful electrical charge, Fitzhugh said.
That mode does not cause the neuromuscular incapacitation normally associated with Tasers, but it is meant to induce enough pain to subdue the suspect, said Taser vice president of strategic communications Steve Tuttle.
CHP said that shortly after being hit with the Taser, Murphy became unresponsive. Officers then gave medical aid. Murphy’s ex-wife, Kristina Compher, said he was taken to UC Davis Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
Fitzhugh said Murphy was in custody at the time of his death. The Sacramento County Coroner’s Office has not yet made a determination on the cause.
Compher said Monday she is frustrated by a lack of details from the CHP and has hired a prominent civil rights attorney, John Burris, to help investigate whether Murphy died as a result of the accident or if police misconduct occurred. Melissa Nold, an attorney helping to represent Murphy, said she wonders why force was used on a crash victim who may have been suffering from an injury affecting his behavior.
Fitzhugh said he could not provide specifics because the incident remains under investigation by the CHP, in conjunction with the Sacramento County District Attorney’s and Coroner’s offices. Fitzhugh said the CHP prepared a news release about the incident on Dec. 8, but released it only when asked about it by media.
Compher said Murphy was an Oakland Raiders fan who worked in construction and was a “good guy and a very good dad.” Murphy had three children, ages 9, 12 and 14, with Compher, as well as two younger children.
She said she didn’t know why he would have been driving the wrong way. She said she spoke to him earlier in the evening and that he sounded normal.
“I don’t want to have my children thinking that police officers are bad because what if it was just a freak accident? But then why not just return my phone calls … instead of ignoring me?” Compher said. “I’m not blaming anybody, and I don’t want to blame anybody. I just want to know what happened.”